Task force links 'social determinants' to health care

Robert Houk • Updated Oct 10, 2019 at 8:46 AM

Two local members of Gov. BiIl Lee’s Health Care Modernization Task force said Wednesday exploring how educational and economic factors impact the health care of Tennesseans will be an area of focus for the 25-member advisory panel.

Alan Levine, the president and CEO of Ballad Health, and Dr. Randy Wykoff, dean of East Tennessee State University’s College of Public Health, believe “social determinants” are key to health care outcomes. The Republican governor has named the two to the task force, which has been charged with improving health care policy in Tennessee.

Levine said he is pleased to see addressing social determinants listed as one of the five areas the task will concentrate on in the coming months. He said poverty is a “leading contributor to poor health” in Tennessee.

Public policies that “help lift up people” by improving their educational and economic standing, Levine said, can also help change the “cost trajectory of health care and improve health outcomes.”

The task force has also identified improving rural health care, bettering transportation to health services, creating transparency in medical billing and using technology to serve rural communities as other areas to be addressed.

“I am grateful the governor asked me to serve, and that he is seeking input from across the state,” Levine said. “I can’t say enough about who he has asked to co-chair the task force. He’s picked two very good people.”

Lee has named state Department of Finance and Administration Commissioner Stuart McWhorter and Bill Carpenter, the former CEO and chairman of LifePoint Health, to lead the task force. The bipartisan panel is also made up of eight state legislators, as well as doctors, nurses and health care executives in Tennessee.

Wykoff said he hopes to bring his background and knowledge in public health to the panel. He said that includes addressing social determinants and improving health care in rural communities.

He said an individual’s level of education and income impacts the health outcomes of Tennesseans as much as their heredity and family’s medical history.

“These are much more important than we previously realized,” Wykoff said.

He said Americans in the nation’s lowest income group are three times more likely to die before they reach the age of 65 than those from higher income sectors. In addition, studies show men with just a high school diploma live seven years less than those with a college degree.

Wykoff said Tennessee must find ways to better the economic and educational outcomes of its residents, in addition to improving access to health care and promoting healthy behaviors.

“The most important thing is for people to understand that all these factors — economics, education and health — go hand-in-hand,” he said.

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